CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Agalinis acuta

Bruce Sorrie

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Agalinis acuta

Common Names: 
sandplain agalinis, sandplain false foxglove, sandplain gerardia
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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 Fish & WildLife

Agalinis acutaenlarge
Photographer: Bruce Sorrie
Image Owner: New England Wildflower Society

Agalinis acuta is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Elizabeth J. Farnsworth contributed to this Plant Profile.

Agalinis acuta

The delicate, bright pink blossoms of Agalinis acuta grace the sandplain grasslands of the northeastern United States in late summer. Found on dry, low-nutrient soils, this plant appears to depend upon disturbance (including fire) to persist. Only around a dozen populations remain of some fifty that were once found from Massachusetts to Maryland. Habitat destruction, succession to woody stands, trampling, and herbivory have led to the decline of this species.

Research and Management Summary:
This species, as well as a number of closely related species, has been relatively well studied. Management plans that are thought to be beneficial to the species are in place for some populations, and monitoring is occurring in some locations.

Plant Description:
Agalinis acuta is a slender, yellow-green herbaceous annual, growing with few branches up to 20 - 40 cm (7.8 - 15.6 in) tall. The narrow, linear leaves (2.5 cm [1 in] long) are arrayed oppositely along the stem. The pink-purple, tubular flowers are stalked on long pedicels in a terminal raceme, and each lasts only one day. Each blossom has shallowly-notched petals with two white lines coming together into a white throat marked with purple spots. Tiny, light brown, textured seeds are released from oval fruits in the fall.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
New York
Rhode Island
State Range of  Agalinis acuta
  Agalinis acuta grows primarily in "dry, sandy, short grass plains, roadsides, and openings in oak scrub" along the coastal plain from Massachusetts to Long Island, with a disjunct population in a serpentine barren in Maryland (Natureserve 2001). Soils are very dry, nutrient-poor, and generally acidic, and other vegetation is quite sparse and even stunted under these conditions.

The species is described from cemeteries, middle-aged Pinus rigida- Quercus ilicifolia barrens, roadsides, a golf course bordered by a high-quality maritime grassland, a disturbed remnant of grazed coastal plain grassland, sandy moraines, and a Pinus-Quercus woodland on serpentine bedrock (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1988, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1989, Natureserve 2001). Disturbance, mowing, grazing, and fire, in combination with relatively sterile soils create a very sparse herbaceous layer conducive to the long-term persistence of Agalinis acuta.

Associated plant species include: little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), field pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), early low blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), bushy rockrose (Helianthemum dumosum), birdfoot violet (Viola pedata), wild oat grass (Danthonia spicata), panic grasses (Panicum spp.), fescue (Festuca rubra), winter bent grass (Agrostis hyemale), Maryland golden aster (Chrysopsis mariana), colicroot (Aletris farinosa), linear-leaved goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia), toothed white-topped aster (Aster paternus), orange-grass (Hypericum gentianoides), spring ladies' tresses (Spiranthes vernalis), little ladies' tresses (Spiranthes tuberosa), milkworts (Polygala spp.), purple gerardia (Agalinis purpurea), pine-barren gerardia (Agalinis virgata), lichens (Cetraria and Cladonia spp.), and mosses (Polytrichum spp.) (Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program [MANHESP] 1995, Natureserve 2001).

  Agalinis acuta occurs in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. The species is most frequent in New York, with six populations; but efforts in Massachusetts are leading to the re-establishment of a handful more populations (MANHESP 2001). The Maryland population, discovered in 1950, is a disjunct occurrence, as no records are known from either Delaware or New Jersey.

Number Left
  Less than fifteen populations of Agalinis acuta are known, including two recently established sites in Massachusetts (Natureserve 2001). The largest populations, in New York and Massachusetts, contain up to thousands of plants; all others are currently smaller. Therefore, the global population of Agalinis acuta is likely to be on the order of 10,000 plants. Because it is an annual, populations of Agalinis acuta vary widely in numbers from year to year.


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Connecticut S1 E 1/1/1999  
  Maryland S1 E 4/30/2001  
  Massachusetts S1 E 11/29/2001  
  New York S1 E 4/1/2001  
  Rhode Island S1 E 1/1/2000  
  United States N1 5/28/1993  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Agalinis acuta is a late-season bloomer, producing showy, pink flowers (each only lasting a day) in late August to late September. Its pollinators are bumblebees (Bombus spp.; W. E. Brumback, NEWFS, personal communication), but a generalist syrphid fly has also been observed on A. acuta in Massachusetts (Natureserve 2001). Pollen limitation does not appear to affect the plant, as many seeds are produced in studied populations (Lundgren 1984, Natureserve 2001).

Seeds disperse close to the parent plant (some potentially carried off by small mammals); thus, seedling establishment is closely tied to the habitat quality of the maternal plant. Being an annual, Agalinis acuta may rely upon a seed bank to weather environmental change from year to year. However, its capacity to form long-lived seeds banks has yet to be confirmed (Brumback 1989).

Seed germination in the wild tends to be very low (Brumback, personal communication). Treatment with a period of cold, moist stratification (mimicking overwintering conditions) enhances germination under ex situ conditions (Brumback 1989), and other Agalinis species show physiological seed dormancy (Baskin and Baskin 1998).

Following germination, seedlings of Agalinis acuta show high mortality, leading to speculation that the plant (like others of its genus and family) is a hemi-parasite that requires a host plant in order to establish (Musselman and Mann 1977, Brumback 1989). This symbiotic relationship has yet to be documented in the field for Agalinis acuta.

Herbivory on stems has been cited as a threat to the species; meadow voles and other mammals forage on the plant (USFWS 1988, Natureserve 2001). On the other hand, large grazers (cattle and horses), which once impeded the growth of competing woody vegetation, may have facilitated the growth of Agalinis acuta in the past (Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2001); the plant can rebranch from the stem following grazing and mowing provided such disturbance does not destroy the growing meristem. Disturbance in the form of grazing, mowing, and fire (Knox 1984) may thus directly or indirectly promote the survival of Agalinis acuta, if sufficient water is also present.

  As articulated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1988, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993, and Natureserve 2001:

Habitat conversion of coastal sandplains for residential development
Suppression of fire, grazing, and other disturbances, permitting growth of competing woody vegetation
Mowing at inappropriate times of year (i.e., during reproduction)
Trampling by people and off-road vehicles
Herbicide use (in managed areas such as cemeteries and golf courses)
Pesticide use that has eradicated potential pollinators
Possible decline of an unknown host plant
Salt spray associated with oceanic storms and road maintenance

Current Research Summary
  Maile Neel (Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts) and Paul Somers (Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Westborough, Massachusetts) have studied the establishment and maintenance of Agalinis acuta populations in Massachusetts (Neel and Somers 2000).

The New England Wild Flower Society successfully germinated seeds of Agalinis acuta but obtained low survivorship of seedlings, even using the grass little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) as a host species, (Brumback 1989). Preliminary studies indicate that Agalinis acuta seeds do not remain viable in seed bank storage conditions. Germination of seedlings both in the wild and in ex situ conditions is very low.

Dr. Judith M. Canne-Hilliker (Department of Botany, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada) elucidated the phylogeny of the genus Agalinis in the 1980's through studies of plant morphology and chromosome numbers (Canne 1983, Canne 1984, Canne-Hilliker 1991). Also see D'Arcy (1978).

Recent studies by Dieringer (1999) on Agalinis skinneriana, another rare congener from Illinois, may be instructive. Also see Vickery and Vickery (1983) on Agalinis maritima.

David Maddox of The Nature Conservancy (dmaddox@tnc.org) has conducted demographic studies, a soil scarification experiment, and a mapping of Agalinis acuta relative to potential host plants at its single site in Maryland.

Julie Lundgren, Biologist with The Nature Conservancy, has studied the autecology of Agalinis acuta (Lundgren 1983).

DiGregorio and Wallner (1986) have examined the populations of Agalinis acuta in Massachusetts.

Current Management Summary
  The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (Westborough, Massachusetts), assisted by volunteer task forces of the New England Plant Conservation Program of The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) and other partners, regularly monitor populations of Agalinis acuta in New England.

The population in Maryland is monitored annually by Daniel Boone, Ecologist, and Chris Ludwig, Botanist, both of the Maryland Heritage and Threatened/Endangered Species Project, Dept. of Natural Resources, C-3, Tawes State Office Bldg., Annapolis, MD 21401.

The Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program is focusing on a management plant of prescribed burns, mowing before July 1, and soil scarification. Two new populations have been introduced, but long-term studies are needed to evaluate their viability (Dunwiddie et al. 1996). Five populations appear to be stable or growing. (See Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program 2001)

Monitoring of Long Island populations has been conducted by Dr. Robert Zaremba, The Nature Conservancy, Boston, Massachusetts

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation completed a project with the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to re-establish sandplain gerardia (Agalinis acuta) to Long Island. The efforts include replanting, ecosystem management techniques and long term monitoring. Project coordinator: Marilyn Jordan, Stewardship Ecologist, Long Island Chapter of the The Nature Conservancy.

Research Management Needs
  Determine if Agalinis acuta depends upon hemi-parasitic relationships with other host plant species throughout its range
Devise an optimized plan for controlled disturbance to maintain open habitat for Agalinis acuta at all sites where it occurs
Compile demographic data from multiple populations to inform population viability analyses
Study the effects of soil water availability on the survivorship and reproduction of Agalinis acuta
Identify pollinators and herbivores on the plant throughout its range
Study the genetic identity and relatedness to Agalinis tenuifolia, particularly in the Maryland population of Agalinis acuta

Ex Situ Needs
  Studies of long-term viability of seed banks of Agalinis acuta are needed.


Books (Single Authors)

Baskin, C.C.; Baskin, J.M. 1998. Seeds: Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution of Dormancy and Germination. San Diego, California: Academic Press.

Church, G.L.; Champlin, R.L. 1978. Rare and endangered vascular plant species in Rhode Island. Cambridge, MA: New England Botanical Club. 17p.

DiGregorio, M.; Wallner, J. 1989. A Vanishing Heritage: Wildflowers of Cape Cod. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company.

Gleason, H.A.; Cronquist, A. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Bronx: The New York Botanical Garden.

Gray, A.; Fernald, M.L. 1987. Gray's manual of botany: a handbook of the flowering plants and ferns of the central and northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. Portland, Or.: Dioscorides Press. 1632p.

Lazell, J.D., Jr. 1976. This broken archipelago. Cape Cod and the islands, amphibians and reptiles. New York: Demeter Press. 260p.

Mehrhoff, L.J. 1978. Rare and Endangered Vascular Plant Species in Connecticut. Newton Corner, Massachusetts: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. viii + 98p.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Electronic Sources

(2001). Rare Species Recovery and Ecological Restoration. Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), part of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. http://www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dfw/nhesp/nhrest.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Endangered Plants in Maryland. [Web site] Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/rtes.html. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). New York Botanical Garden--The Virtual Herbarium. [Searchable Web site] New York Botanical Garden. Fordham Road Bronx, New York. http://scisun.nybg.org:8890/searchdb/owa/wwwspecimen.searchform. Accessed: 2002.

Jordan, M.; Jacobs, B. (2001). Description of management to remove two invasive species from Hempstead Plains, NY, threatening Agalinis acuta. The Nature Conservancy. http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/moredocs/eupcy01.pdf. Accessed: 2002.

MANHESP. (1993). Massachusetts Endangered Plants Fact Sheets. Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program; Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Westborough, Massachusetts. http://www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dfw/nhesp/nhfactplt.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Bicknell, E.P. 1915. Ferns and flowering plants of Nantucket XV. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 42: 331-349.

Brumback, W.E. 1989. Notes on propagation of rare New England species. Rhodora. 91: 154-162.

Brumback, W.E. 1996. Conservation: Rebuilding Rare Plant Populations-Part 1. New England Wild Flower Notes. 3-4.

Canne, J.M. 1983. The taxonomic significance of seedling morphology of Agalinis (Scrophulariaceae). Canadian Journal of Botany. 61: 1868-1874.

Canne, J.M. 1984. Chromosome numbers and the taxonomy Of North American Agalinis (Scrophulariaceae). Canadian Journal of Botany. 62, 3: 454-456.

Canne-Hilliker, J.M. 1991. Taxonomic significance of leaf and stem anatomy of Agalinis (Scrophulariaceae) from the U. S. A. and Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany. 69: 1935-1950.

D'Arcy, W.G. 1978. Names in Agalinis for some plants that were called Gerardia and Virgularia (Scrophulariaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 65: 769-771.

Dieringer, G. 1999. Reproductive biology of Agalinis skinneriana (Scrophulariaceae), a threatened species. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. 126, 4: 289-295.

Dunwiddie, P.W.; Brumback, W.E.; Somers, P. 1996. Reintroduction experiments on Agalinis acuta in coastal sandplain grasslands in Massachusetts. Abstract in Supplement to Bull. Ecological Society of America. 77, 3: 123.

Fernald, M.L. 1906. Additions to the flora of Rhode Island. Rhodora. 8, 221-222

Knox, R.G. 1984. Age structure of forests on Soldiers Delight, a Maryland serpentine area. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 111: 498-501.

Lamont, E.E.; Fitzgerald, J.M. 2000. Noteworthy plants reported from the Torrey Range - 2000. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. 128

Musselman, L.J.; Mann, W.F., Jr. 1977. Host plants of some Rhinanthoidea (Scrophulariaceae) of eastern North America. Plant Systematics Evolution. 127: 45-53.

Neel, M.C. 2002. Conservation Implications of the Reproductive Ecology of Agalinis acuta (Scrophulariaceae). American Journal of Botany. 89, 6: 972-980.

Pennell, F.W. 1929. Agalinis and allies in North America--II. Proceedings Academy Natural Sciences Philadelphia. : 111-249.

Pennell, F.W. 1935. The Scrophulariaceae of Eastern Temperate North America. Monographs -Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. 1: 415-419.

Reed, C.F. 1986. Floras of the Serpentine formation in eastern North America with descriptions of geomorphology and mineralogu of the formations. Contributions of the Reed Herbarium. 30: 1-858.

Rees, M.D. 1988. Final listing rules approved for 25 species. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 13, 9-10: 3-5.

Taylor, N. 1923. The vegetation of Montauk. A study of grassland and forest. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Memoirs. 2: 1-107.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 1987. Listing protection is proposed for seven species. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 12, 11-12: 5-6.

USFWS. 1987. Proposal to determine Agalinis acuta (sandplain gerardia) to be an endangered species. Federal Register. 52, 223: 44450-44453.

USFWS. 1988. Determination of Agalinis acuta (Sandplain gerardia) to be an Endangered Species. Federal Register. 53, 173: 34701-34705.

USFWS. 1989. Regional News--Region 7. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 14, 3: 4.

Vickery, B.S.J.; Vickery, P.D. 1983. Note on the status of Agalinis maritima (Raf.) Raf. in Maine. Rhodora. 85: 267-269.

Ware, J. 1992. Where the Wild Things Are: The Center for Plant Conservation tracks down rare species to save them from extinction. American Horticulturist. 19-25.

Magazine Articles

Buttrick, S.. 1990. Ecology Forum: The Weed that Wasn't. Nature Conservancy Magazine: 22-23.


Brumback, B. 1990. Agalinis acuta: Cultivation and Seed Bank Research. Framingham, MA: New England Wild Flower Society, Garden in the Woods. p.22.

DiGregorio, M.; Wallner, J. 1986. 1986 population study and ecological site review of Agalinis acuta Pennell. Boston: Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. p.Unpaged. Unpublished Report.

Dowhan, J.J.; Craig, R.J. 1976. Rare and endangered species of Connecticut and their habitats. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Geological and Natural History Survey. p.135.

Dunwiddie, P.W. 1995. Reintroduction of Agalinis acuta in Massachusetts. From Massachusetts Audubon Society to Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. p.9. Final Report.

Institution, Smithsonian. 1974. Report on Endangered and Threatened Plant Species of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. p.200.

Lundgren, J. 1983. Autecological study of Agalinis acuta at two cemeteries in Massachusetts. Maryland/Rhode Island Field Office: The Nature Conservancy. p.13. Unpublished report.

Mitchell, R.S.; Sheviak, C.J. 1981. Rare Plants of New York State. Bull. No. 445. Albany, N.Y.: New York State Museum. University of the State of New York. p.96.

Mitchell, R.S.; Sheviak, C.J.; Dean, J.K. 1980. Rare and Endangered Vascular Plant Species in New York State. Albany, New York: State Botanist's Office, New York State Museum. In cooperation with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.38.

Neel, M.; Somers, P. 2000. Summary Report on Six Experiments Examining Establishment and Maintenance of Agalinis acuta Populations. U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service New England Field Office. p.62. Contract 14-48-0005-93-90002 with The Nature Conse.

Rawinski, T.; Cassin, J. 1986. Final status survey reports for 32 plants submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Boston: The Nature Conservancy Eastern Heritage Task Force.

Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife. 1993. Sandplain Gerardia (Agalinis acuta) Population and Habitat Viability Assessment. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and IUCN/SSC Captive Breeding Specialist Group. Working report.

USFWS. 1989. Sandplain Gerardia (Agalinis acuta) Recovery Plan. Newton Corner, Massachusetts: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.47.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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